Category Archives: Christians and War

Christian Militia – When Do We Support Them?

The ominous words “Christian militia” have been appearing with increasing frequency in the media.

In some cases the words indicate groups that are fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These are mainly Assyrian Christians who have taken up arms to defend their homelands.

This is a natural response to the depravities of Islamic State, and I am sure that Christians in the West will instinctively support them (even after reading the headline on one magazine article about their activities: “Ex-skinheads and angry white men swell ranks of Christian militia fighting Islamic State”).

But recently Pope Francis made a visit to the Central African Republic, and the words “Christian militia” appeared regularly in media reports of his visit. This time the connotations were definitely negative.

The Central African Republic has a Christian majority, with Muslims only about 15 per cent of the population. But in March 2013 Muslim rebel groups grabbed control of the government, and then launched a campaign of violence against Christians and others.

The response was predictable, and rapidly the nation descended into bloody civil war. As I wrote recently, the Central African Republic is often now described as a failed state in permanent crisis.

In particular, the “Anti-Balaka” militia group, often described as Christian, has been accused of a significant escalation of the violence, including the mutilation of some of its Muslim victims, the burning of entire villages and ethnic cleansing that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Is this group really Christian? I am not in a position to judge, though certainly it appears to have Christians among its leaders. In any case, it has been condemned by the church and by many local Christians, and we in the West must condemn it too. Its activities have gone well beyond self-defense, regardless of the provocation.

Indeed, it is a sad fact that Christians have been involved in reprehensible conduct in several parts of Africa in recent times.

I have been reading a provocative new book, “The Looting Machine,” by Tom Burgis, a correspondent with Britain’s Financial Times newspaper. The sub-title of the book makes clear its theme: “Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth.”

In one chapter, “God Has Nothing to Do with It,” he describes how some Christians in Nigeria are actively involved in the corruption that plagues that country. However, he also quotes a Catholic archbishop who says that often this is a case of failed politicians using religion as a weapon to stir up the masses.

“God is not such a weakling that we must kill for him,” says the archbishop.

Amen to that.

Marching As To War, With The Cross Of Jesus

Recently, in “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I posted some reflections on the role of Christians in the armed forces. Here are a few more reflections.

Can a senior military officer truly follow Jesus and still be an efficient and effective soldier? An emphatic “yes” is the answer from Major General Tim Cross of the British Army, addressing a conference of the Association of Military Christian Fellowships in Warsaw some years ago.

He lays down five guiding principles for the officer seeking to follow Jesus. And he gives an answer to the question: in war, whose side is God on?

It’s a fascinating address. At this time of conflict and confrontation it deserves a wider audience (though, sadly, no longer appears to be online).

SoldiersThe five principles:

1. God didn’t send a committee. He sent a human leader, who had a team of twelve, one of whom was a failure. So it’s crucial that someone be in charge, with authority and responsibility. “You can’t lead by committee – the buck stops with you, the leader.”

2. Jesus was a leader who served:

Don’t cling to positions of authority, title, status or shoulder power; rather live with and live through the lives of your people. In doing so, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with the British officers in the Falklands who arrived in Port Stanley cold, dirty and tired, having fought alongside their men, and not with the Argentinean officers who set themselves apart, and surrendered clean, well fed and rested: and you will stand alongside those British officers and non-commissioned officers who, without any orders, appeared at all times of the day and night to help the refugees in Blace and Brazde in Northern Macedonia, giving their time, food and energy unselfishly.

3. Jesus was a leader who developed the gifts of others. He built up self-belief in all He came into contact with.

4. Don’t stand aloof from your people. Communicate with them. Listen and consult. Jesus didn’t operate from an office.

5. Confront evil and sin, and do so head on. Evil is ever-present. So condemn the sin, but not the sinner:

This fifth principle, best summed up perhaps in the word “love,” applies to our enemies too. “Love your enemies” is not a pacifist message, but it does lie at the very heart of the Geneva Convention.

If you can do this, then you will stand alongside those who achieved such great things in the Falklands but also then made the decisions not to shell the retreating Argentineans around Port Stanley; with those who achieved so much in the Gulf War, but then ensured that British vehicles, food and water were made available to the captured Iraqi prisoners of war; with those who today ensure equality of treatment in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. 

And you will stand separate from those who were in My Lai in Vietnam, or slaughtered women and children and wounded soldiers in the Far East and Europe in World War II, or ethnically cleansed the villages and towns throughout Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. This is what separates out the true Christian leader. Difficult? Yes, of course it is, but in following the example of Jesus Christ you can be inspired to stand firm against evil and achieve great things.

We should applaud the fact that we have such leaders in our military, and praise God that we have such a Servant King who inspires them.

Finally, in warfare, whose side is God on?

In the words of Major General Cross:

Too often we expect God to be on our side. But that is not the real issue. It is not a matter of whose side God is on in warfare, or any other aspect of life. The real question is not, “Whose side is God on?” but, “Are we on God’s side?” 

Onward Christian Soldiers

Who was the first Gentile baptized by Peter? Cornelius.

What did he do? He was a soldier.

God loves soldiers, though Christians throughout the ages have sometimes been unsure. Can you really be a soldier and a true Christian? My own thinking on this issue has evolved a lot.

soldier-waving-to-civiliansMy father was a Jewish refugee to New Zealand. He served in the New Zealand Air Force during World War II – he once told me he would have been first in line to volunteer to help drop the A-bombs on Japan – but after the war refused to accept the medals to which he was entitled, as some kind of anti-war protest. (After he died, in 1994, I wrote to the New Zealand Defence Department to check if the medals were still available. They were, and I have them now in my desk drawer.)

He and my mother became leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s in an intensely anti-war environment. Yet at the same time my uncle – my father’s younger brother, who as a boy had been smuggled by Jewish groups into pre-war Palestine – was a career officer in the Israeli army.

I guess that ambivalence about military matters stuck with me. So after I became a Christian, at the age of 44, if I’d been asked my views about armed service, I might have answered with something vague to the effect that of course we need an army, but that it’s better that Christians not serve in it. Because armies are for killing, and Christians shouldn’t kill.

Or I might have said that I classified soldiers with lawyers and real estate agents. When you need them you expect them to get down and dirty. Better they not be Christians.

But gradually I’ve come to change my views. (At least about soldiers. I’m still undecided about lawyers and real estate agents.)  I’ve come to recognize something important: we need more Christians serving in the military.

In a post that is no longer online, Reverend Major General Ian Durie – a British soldier who later became an Anglican priest – examined many stories of serving soldiers in Scripture, and concluded:

We clearly see from the New Testament that soldiering is an honorable profession, but one which has to be conducted in a right way….Our Lord and the apostles (our model church leaders) approved then, as they approve now, the profession of soldier….Soldiering is an honorable profession, to which men and women of faith are called.

But don’t soldiers kill? Yes, they do. As Major General Durie explains:

There is a tendency…not to trust that God has appointed us to be soldiers, nor that soldiering has our Lord’s approval, and is a high calling under God. And when we don’t trust Him for that, when we don’t offer this part of our lives in worship to God, when we take off Christ as we put our uniforms on, then we abandon Him when we have a gun in our hand, at the time that we need Him most. Do you see that? It’s a matter of life and death, and at that supreme test we need God’s guidance more than at any other time.

So don’t be blind….Because as a Christian, if you are not ready to kill if need be, and approve of it, then you should not be a soldier. For myself, I know that in the Gulf War I was responsible for the deaths probably of hundreds, maybe thousands of Iraqi soldiers. I did what I believed was right under God, but I also know that at the last day I am answerable before Him for my actions there.

I recall C.S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity”:

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.

But do not the commandments tell us not to kill? Did not Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? Yes, but justice and righteous are over-riding imperatives of God. Major General Durie again:

Where, we must ask the pacifist, is the righteousness in rape or robbery? Such things must be stopped, and we may ourselves use reasonable force to prevent them.…The same applies at a national level, internally against terrorists and rebels, and externally against other armies who threaten violent action against the state.

His conclusion: “It is always wrong to use force, unless it is more wrong not to.”

The Book of Revelation Unfolds in Iraq

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. – Revelation 9:4

Mark of GodIraq’s first Christian-only brigade of regular forces graduated this week, and will now join the fight to retake the community’s towns and villages from ISIS.

In a great post, Palestinian Christian Walid Shoebat has noted that many of the 600 members of the force have painted the mark of God, a cross, on their foreheads.

Some 100,000 Assyrian Christians fled their homes in the Nineveh Plains, in north-east Iraq, when ISIS invaded last August. It was said to be one of the worst disasters to hit what is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

The new brigade, named the Tiger Guards, is comprised entirely of volunteers and will fight under the government of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Does God Still Speak to Soldiers?

In Old Testament times God spoke regularly to Israel’s military commanders, directing their battles and bringing about the defeat of their enemies. He sent an angel to instruct Joshua about how to conquer Jericho. He told David how to overcome the Philistines. There are many other examples.

soldier-waving-to-civiliansBut what about today? Can a Christian military leader expect divine intervention? Does God still take sides?

Some Christian officers have spoken openly of their faith, of how they have turned to God in their times of need and of how He has responded.

Here is Major General Tim Cross of the British Army on God at work in the life of a fellow Christian officer:

Major Chris Keeble, when Colonel H Jones was killed at Goose Green in the 1982 Falklands War, was left alone and somewhat lost; others looked to him as the Battalion second-in-command for leadership. His moment had come; so what did he do?

He moved off alone and knelt in the burning heather; with a prayer taken from his pocket in has hand he sought the Lord. And from there he gathered himself up, and with the command team he went and sought the Argentinean surrender; it was an incredibly bold move, but Keeble is a Christian and it was not by chance that he carried God’s word and a prayer with him, and he was not abandoned by his Lord at this decisive moment.

General Pil Sup Lee, formerly chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, has no doubt that God intervened for him at a crucial time:

In August 1979, I was appointed as a regiment commander on the frontline. Back then, there were frequent small-scale infiltrations by enemy soldiers into the South to carry out assassination missions and collect intelligence. It was a very daunting task to search out these enemy soldiers who were infiltrating along the 155-mile military demarcation line and the 3,767-mile coastline.

Under such circumstances, I thought the best way was to seek God’s help, because “unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). I continuously prayed for this daunting mission of safeguarding my nation from enemy infiltration. And when I was about to begin my new mission as a regiment commander, I fasted for three days and prayed to the Lord.

…On March 23, 1980 at 02:45, there was no moonlight and the sky was draped with clouds. Sleet was pouring down making visibility less than 50 meters. I still wonder how a group of three enemy infiltrators, who were highly trained, select agents, risking their lives, walked up to one of our sentry boxes that were set up every 400 meters.

How could our newly recruited sentries completely suppress those enemy agents without any casualties? Situations unfolded in such a way that defies explanation with conventional tactical assessments.

Many modern Christians will feel uncomfortable with such talk. Yes, they will say, it seems exactly right that God should save lives by arranging for the surrender of Argentinean forces to the British. But does He really answer prayer by helping South Korean soldiers kill three infiltrators from the North?

I don’t have a complete answer. But I do know that God promises to uphold justice and righteousness. I also know that He is sovereign. And when we start placing limits on his sovereignty we dishonor Him.

As we read in Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Movie Exposes Horror of War on Christians

As a child growing up in Syria, Sargon Saadi loved making home movies with his brother and cousins. It led eventually to his decision to travel to the US to study filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago – famous for its arts and media programs – and then to move to the heart of the movie world, Los Angeles, where he has worked as a cinematographer on many films.

But something happened while he was living in the US. His beloved Syria – the jewel of the Middle East, as he describes it – descended into civil war. Worse, parts of the country were then overrun by the terrorists known as Islamic State. Christians and other minorities became a particular target.

Sargon is himself an Assyrian Christian. He knew he had to do something to help his people. He decided to make a movie.

“Assyrians are the descendants of the great Mesopotamian civilization of 7,000 years,” he told me. “They still speak the Aramaic language that Jesus Christ once spoke. They are the last indigenous people of the region.

“As an Assyrian myself, ever since I was a child I wondered what I would have done if I were alive in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against us. That genocide, which the Assyrians now call ‘Seyfo,’ is hardly recognized or even talked about in schools or in the media.

“Now, 100 years later, the Assyrian Christians are facing yet another genocide and this time in Iraq by the terrorist organization Islamic State. I could not stay idle, and that’s why I made the film. I wanted to let the world know.”

Last September he and two producer friends flew to Iraq and spent eight days documenting the crisis. The resulting movie, “The Last Plight,” though just 10 minutes long, is a powerful portrayal of the victims – Christians and other minorities – and their suffering.

Released only at the end of last year, it is already causing a stir. It has been translated into six languages and shown on four television channels. It was screened at the European Parliament and won an award from the Vimeo video-sharing platform. It is expected to be shown this year at film festivals in several countries.

Meanwhile Sargon is finishing another movie, “Qamishli: Peace At War,” a documentary about the survival of the Assyrian Christian community in Syria during the civil war. It focuses on his hometown Qamishli, and will have its premiere in May at the Mardin Film Festival in Turkey.

I asked him what Christians in the West could do to help his cause. He recommended two websites. A Demand For Action provides information on the crisis. Assyrian Aid Society takes donations and uses them to help the most needy.

“It all starts with us being informed about world atrocities,” said Sargon. “With knowledge we can destroy ignorance, and with love we can conquer hate.”

“The Last Plight” can be viewed online. 

A Psalm for the Battle: Reflections on Psalm 18, Christians and Warfare

By Martin Roth

Psalm for the Battle - coverJust uploaded to Amazon Kindle, my new devotional, A Psalm for the Battle: Reflections on Psalm 18, Christians and Warfare.

Here’s the Amazon blurb –

What does God really think about war?

In this short devotional (7,600 words) best-selling Christian author Martin Roth uses the resounding words of Psalm 18 – in which David praises God for victory in battle – to examine some of the ethical issues of Christianity and warfare.

He asks questions such as when can a Christian soldier kill? How are we to understand some of the bloodthirsty passages of the Old Testament? Does God still provide guidance to military commanders, as He did in Old Testament times? What does a Christian do when ordered on a suicide mission?

And he provides some surprising answers. He includes testimonies from modern-day military leaders who have clearly heard God speaking to them at critical times of battle.

And did you know that some of the Japanese kamikaze pilots – who deliberately crashed their aircraft into American warships during World War II – were devout Christians? How did they reconcile their actions with their faith?

But ultimately this devotional is about the spiritual battle faced by every Christian. It is for all those who have been challenged by the stirring words from the Book of Ephesians:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.